In Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assn. the Supreme Court ruled that video games are protected by free speech. In this 7-2 ruling the Court rejected the idea that video games qualify for special regulation because of their interactive nature, calling it “unprecedented and mistaken.” It continued:
Comments and link to full transcript after the jump.
This country has no tradition of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence. And California’s claim that “interactive” video games present special problems, in that the player participates in the violent action on screen and determines its out-come, is unpersuasive.
Furthermore, the Court found that the industry’s current voluntary rating system already provides sufficient guidelines and restrictions to keep age-inappropriate games out of children’s hands. The level of non-compliance by retailers and the evidence supporting the theory that video games deserved special classification was not enough to persuade the Supreme Court to make changes in the Constitution.
California also cannot show that the Act’s restrictions meet the alleged substantial need of parents who wish to restrict their children’s access to violent videos. The video-game industry’s voluntary rating system already accomplishes that to a large extent. Moreover, as a means of assisting parents the Act is greatly overinclusive, since not all of the children who are prohibited from purchasing violent video games have parents who dis-approve of their doing so. The Act cannot satisfy strict scrutiny.
The only other government regulation of free speech as directed towards children is one for pornography.
The real world application for this ruling is that retailers will not have to fear criminal prosecution for the sale of violent video games to children. The prosecution’s definition of violent video games was sufficiently broad that many feared that retailers would simply stop selling games with an M rating, or that developers would start restricting the level of violence in new games.
Justices Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas dissented.
Read the full ruling here.